Pianist Steve Sandberg taps into music history, spirituality and a slight touch of Brazil. The Steve Sandberg Quartet presents Alaya (2017).
Sandberg’s accompanists are Zach Brock, violin; Michael O’Brien, bass; and Mauricio Zottarelli, drums.
“Maurice” is a nod to classical composer Maurice Ravel’s “Prelude to Le Tombeau de Couperin.” It’s a tranquil, easygoing piece that largely features the violin out front, with the piano painting a haunting background scene.
“Iboga” is named for an African plant medicine. The song moves through different moods, at times upbeat and adventurous, and at times slow, as if recuperating. Sandberg says the piece was inspired by two “Iboga” journeys that led to spiritual awakening. “Iboga is a sacrament of the Bwiti religion from Gabon,” he says. The beat Zottarellia plays is based on Bwiti music.
Sandberg has toured with David Byrne and Joao Gilberto, and has earned three Emmy nominations for his writing and musical direction on “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go!”
The title, “Ayala,” comes from Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento. “Not specifically anything he did, but the kind of syllables he uses for melisma,” Sandberg says. “It also has the connotation of the Hebrew aliya, going up to God, spiritual uplift, the soul in song.”
The music is mostly ambient. It may not be suitable for today’s habit of multitasking. It’s enjoyed best when one can listen without distraction.